Coronavirus Canada Updates: Ottawa schools will remain closed for in-person learning next week

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Elementary and secondary school students at Ottawa’s four publicly funded school boards will not be returning to class on Monday.

The Ontario government announced late Wednesday afternoon that schools in Ottawa will not be allowed to reopen for in-person learning on Jan. 25. The decision means students in the Ottawa Carleton District School Board, Ottawa Catholic School Board, the Conseil des ecoles catholiques du Centre-Est and the Conseil des ecoles publiques de l’Est will continue with remote learning next week.

Schools within the Eastern Ontario Health Unit region will also remain closed on Monday. The announcement did not say when schools could reopen for in-person learning.

The provincial lockdown which began on Dec. 26 delayed the Jan. 4 holiday break resumption for elementary students one week. However, rising COVID cases across much of the province pushed all but seven northern school boards to extend the closure until Jan. 25, while students who attend schools in Toronto, Peel, York, Hamilton and Windsor-Essex are scheduled to continue online learning until Feb. 10.

“Getting students back into class is our top priority,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce in a statement. “According to Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and leading medical and scientific experts, including the Hospital for Sick Children, Ontario’s schools are safe places for learning.”

The government says to ensure schools remain safe, it will introduce additional measures including province-wide targeted asymptomatic testing, enhanced screening and mandatory masking for students in Grades 1-3.

The Ontario government says elementary and secondary schools in the following Public Health Units will be permitted to resume in-person learning on Jan. 25:

Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Health Unit
Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit
Peterborough Public Health
Renfrew County and District Health Unit
Hastings and Prince Edward Counties Health Unit
Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit
Grey Bruce Health Unit

Schools in the following school boards in eastern Ontario will resume learning on Jan. 25.

Renfrew Country District School Board
Renfrew County Catholic District School Board
Limestone District School Board
Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board

In a media release, the Ontario government says some schools in the Upper Canada District School Board, Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario, the Conseil des ecoles catholiques du Centre-Est and the Conseil des ecoles publiques de l’Est will be allowed to open in public health unit regions where schools are permitted to open.

In a statement to parents, the Ottawa Carleton District School Board said, “Elementary and secondary OCDSB students will continue with remote learning. In-person learning will be maintained for students in specialized program classes.”

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board had previously said secondary schools would continue with remote learning until Jan. 29.

In a note to students, the Conseil des ecoles catholiques du Centre-Est said students who attend a school in Ottawa will continue virtual learning until at least Feb. 10. Students who attend a CECCE school outside of Ottawa will be able to resume in-person learning on Jan. 25.

Virtual classes and online learning have been a challenge for some students and parents alike.

For Catherine Fisk, she had hoped Wednesday’s announcement would be in favour of back-to-school, her daughters Charlotte, in grade two and Bridgette, in grade four, are wanting to head back as well.

“They miss all of their friends and the interaction at school,” says Fisk. “I notice a big difference in their moods and their mental health so i think it’s important for them to get back.”

Ottawa medical officer of health, Doctor Vera Etches wrote in a statement that given the challenges for parents, guardians and students learning from home, she is asking employers to be understanding and that mental health and well-being are important, offering resources for help.

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Dr. Etches said Ottawa Public Health is ready to help schools reopen safely.

“We appear to be turning the curve in Ottawa and Ottawa Public Health is ready to support a safer return to school,” said Dr. Etches. “With added emphasis on the daily screening and testing for people with symptoms to keep COVID-19 out of schools.”

Doctor Paul Roumeliotis, the medical officer of health of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA, said the consensus around the medical table is ‘open them up’, adding the downward trend is the reason he’s not against it.

Ottawa has seen a decrease in active cases during the lockdown. Wednesday the city reported 67 new cases of novel coronavirus.

When students return, expect additional measures to ensure safety. It is likely Ontario will mandate that students at all grade levels wear masks. Previously, masks were required for Grades four and up, but encouraged for everyone else.

COVID-19 testing in December showed that schools were not a significant source of transmission however over the holiday break, along with reports of people breaking the rules, positivity rates among children age 12-13 years old increased form 5.44 percent in November to nearly 20 percent in January.

Fisk says that if COVID cases trend above 100, she worries more, but says her kids are responsible and ready to return.

“If it’s safe for them to go back we’d love for them to go back,” says Fisk. “if not we’ll just keep on keeping up homeschool.”

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